Imminent Independent Counsel Report Gets Sliced Up

Potentially explosive allegations from a 10-year independent counsel investigation may never see the light of day due to an appropriations bill negotiation that has some conservatives crying foul.

The final report of David M. Barrett, an independent counsel appointed in 1995 to investigate potential felonies committed by one-time Clinton administration Housing and Urban Development Secretary Henry Cisneros, is tentatively scheduled for release on Jan. 19, Barrett told

However, Barrett and others say, thanks to an amendment to the November judiciary appropriations bill, key elements in the final report, which was completed in August 2004 and has been sitting with a three-judge panel at the U.S. District Court of Appeals in Washington D.C. ever since, may be heavily redacted before its release.

"As it currently stands, the report will not be released in its entirety," said Barrett, who didn't want to speculate why or which portions of the report may not be made public. One decade and some millions of taxpayers' dollars later, he said he is disappointed that the report may not reflect his careful and diligent efforts.

"I believe after 10 years and the expense of $22 million, the public has the right to see the entire report and make their own judgments," he said.

As the contents of the report have been sealed, Barrett is unable to offer details, but sources say the most serious of the allegations concerns, in part, the use of the Internal Revenue Service under the Clinton administration to intimidate political foes. The charges in the report could embarrass former members and associates of the Clinton White House, including former first lady and Sen. Hillary Clinton, D-N.Y., say the sources.

"Some people have said it contains some serious allegations, and when people see the report, they can decide for themselves," Barrett said.

David Kendall, attorney for the Clintons, had no comment regarding the pending release of the report and declined comment on the potential impact on Sen. Clinton "because Senator Clinton is not involved in any way with this matter." Sen. Clinton's office referred all comment back to Kendall.

Conservative commentators like Robert Novak of the Chicago Sun Times and Byron York of The National Review, have speculated recently that Democrats are trying to keep the full report from public view in order to protect the Clintons and their Democratic connections, and they blame Democratic efforts in Congress to kill the most serious allegations in the report.

Democrats on Capitol Hill say these complaints are the outcome of paranoia, and they too want the report let out whenever it's ready for public release.

"The conservatives' charges are pure fantasy, 100 percent," said Barry Piatt, spokesman for Sen. Byron Dorgan, D- N.D. "We have no idea what's in the report, we have no agenda."

The three-judge panel overseeing the independent counsel initially ordered that the full report be given to members of Congress, but the public version be redacted, particularly Section Five, in order to protect individuals who had not been publicly indicted or named. In the October court order, the judges specified that Section Five dealt with Barrett's investigation into tax-related matters and obstruction of justice charges beyond the Cisneros affair.

In October, after voicing concerns that the report had yet to be released, Sens. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa and Dorgan introduced an amendment to the judiciary appropriations bill that would have released all portions of the report, with deletions only for "clearly unwarranted invasion of privacy."

But the language worked out in the subsequent House-Senate conference and in the final bill gave much more discretion to the court to redact individuals' names, which critics contend, ensures that much of Section Five and the most serious charges would be left out of the final report.

Barrett said he is disappointed, but not surprised, at the developments. At least 146 motions have been filed by lawyers connected to the individuals cited in the report, which is reportedly 450 pages long with 2,600 footnotes, delaying its release.

Grassley, in his October remarks regarding the need for the report's imminent release, blamed "foot-dragging" by the lawyers for the individuals named in the report.

"It is the lawyers of the individuals named in the report who have been engaged in one sole pursuit: to foot-drag every inch of the way, filing every motion they can to delay, delay, delay," he said.

But Rep. Joe Knollenberg, R-Mich., an appropriations subcommittee chairman who sat in on the House-Senate conference that produced the legislation on the report's release, defended the negotiators' decision.

"In no way does the legislation suppress relevant — and potential damaging — information about the Clinton administration," said Knollenberg in a recent statement. He added that the legislation simply directs the court to follow existing law that protects individuals' rights and not to interfere with pending prosecution.

Some Democrats suggest that Barrett, who was a former Republican lobbyist and activist before being appointed independent counsel, had overreached his initial mission, which was to investigate whether Cisneros had lied to the Federal Bureau of Investigation about payments he made to his mistress.

In 1999, Cisneros pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge of lying to the FBI, paid a $10,000 fine and was later pardoned by Clinton.

According to a Government Accountability Office report in October, Barrett's office has spent more than $10 million since Cisneros' plea, ratcheting up the total expenses for the office to $22 million since Barrett's 1995 appointment. Since his report was filed in August 2004 until March 2005, he spent $1 million, according to the GAO, mostly on compensation, contractual services and benefits.

"The Barrett investigation has gone on too long and it's wasted millions of taxpayer dollars," said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., in a statement through his spokeswoman. "I don't have any problem with Mr. Barrett releasing his report ... I just want him to stop wasting taxpayer dollars on an investigation he could have finished years ago. "

Barrett defends the long years and money he has spent since the Cisneros affair, which he calls "tragic," and suggests all will be clear when the report is released.

He said he has "been called every name in the book," and has spent many days and nights away from his family over the course of the years. He said he has never taken his task lightly or from a partisan point of view.

"This has been very carefully done, " he said, noting that the report went through 26 drafts before its completion.

Conservative activists are watching for the report with interest, vowing to make noise if it looks like a "cover-up" in the making.

"If it turns out that the report gets released and it smells anything like a typical Clinton cover-up, we're going to activate our 1 million members," said William Greene, president of RightMarch, a Georgia-based grassroots organization that specializes in coordinating campaigns that deluge members of Congress with e-mails, faxes and phone calls on issues of interest. "We're keeping an eye on it right now."